DSAI/ECRG Pipitea Marae Visit

Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini
My strength is not mine alone, it comes from the collective


On 28 May 2021 the Data Science, Artificial Intelligence and Evolutionary Computation Research Group (DSAI/ECRG) from the Faculty of Engineering at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington visited the Pipitea Marae. We were hosted by the Ngāti Pōneke Young Māori Club who are the long-time residents and the backbone of Pipitea Marae.

We are a large rōpū, with staff and students from all over the world. The strength of our rōpū, and those within it, can be seen in the preparation, attendance and reflection on our visit. For many international students and staff members in DSAI/ECRG, this was their first experience on a marae. For our Māori staff, it was an opportunity to share their culture with their colleagues.

Visiting a marae is not like visiting any other establishment in Aotearoa. As manuhiri, it is important we prepare to be welcomed on during the pōhiri, to act appropriately when in the wharenui, and to be farewelled during the poroporoaki. Much preparation needs to be done - i.e. by the tangata whenua, and particularly for our kaikaranga, kaikōrero, and those who have never visited a marae before.

One aspect of the preparation by our kaikaranga, Monoa Taepa, was to speak with her aunty, who regularly performs the role of kaikaranga at Pipitea Marae. This was necessary because if Monoa’s aunty was the kaikaranga for the tangata whenua, then seniority and whakapapa would require us to ask someone else to perform this role on behalf of our rōpū. Our kaikōrero, Kevin Shedlock, had to prepare kōrero for both the pōhiri and the poroporoaki. These roles have to be prepared and delivered in te reo Māori as it is considered bad form to use English during formal, and often informal, ceremonies.

As a rōpū, we prepared by learning about the formalities of visiting a marae – e.g., giving koha. Although the DSAI/ECRG leadership covered the cost of our visit, it was still appropriate for each of us to give koha to the tangata whenua. We also came together to learn waiata to sing during the pōhiri and poroporoaki. The waiata we sang were Hutia Te Rito and Purea Nei. Although most of our rōpū are tangata tūārangi, they picked up the pronunciation and the rangi quickly and sang beautifully on the day.

The Ngāti Pōneke Young Māori Club have a long history of kapa haka and are credited with being the longest serving kapa haka club in New Zealand. On the day, we were fortunate enough to experience a kapa haka performance with traditional waiata and haka. We were also treated to delicious paramanawa.

We were privileged to meet and hear from kaumatua and kuia Mr Bill and Mrs Donas Nathan. We were able to listen to stories and ask questions about the marae, leaving with new knowledge of heritage and cultural experiences in Aotearoa. This kaupapa has been encouraged by our leadership team, in particular Professor Mengjie Zhang who thanked kaumatua and kuia Mr Bill and Mrs Donas Nathan and briefly touched on the importance of Mātauranga Māori for our rōpū. We also had the opportunity to hear from Ms Catherine Hunter, from MBIE, who discussed funding opportunities including the MBIE SSIF Fund on Data Science Programmes , particularly around Vision Mātauranga and unlocking the science innovation potential of Māori knowledge, people, and resources. Kevin discussed the importance of Data Protection in Kaupapa Māori, which is especially relevant to us as practitioners of Artificial Intelligence and Data Science in Aotearoa.

After the formal presentations, and a second paramanawa, it was time for the poroporoaki. Our hosts invited a response from our rōpū, which was first given by our kaikōrero. As we were in the wharenui, the domain of Rongo, Ying Bi agreed to also speak on our behalf. She was initially concerned that in responding in te reo Hainamana the majority would not understand what she was saying. However, the main point of her acknowledgement was to thank our hosts. The essence of her kōrero was gratefully received and understood by all.

As our strength comes from the collective, the rōpū were asked to share their whakaaro on our visit. A common theme among us was gratitude and appreciation to the tangata whenua for the manaaki they showed us. Many learnt a lot about Māori culture and were able to relate the experience to their own culture. One student shared that the visit reminded them of two qualities they try to call upon each day: “resilience and pride in where I come from”. Our second kaikōrero Ying Bi shared that she was honoured to speak in her mother language to give thanks. Those who had never visited a marae before were amazed by the whakairo both inside and outside the wharenui. Many came to the realisation that our rōpū is as much about the people as it is about the work we do. Most of all, we shared an appreciation to the tangata whenua, to the Māori culture and to each other.

This visit was an important and first step for our rōpū to learn about the Māori culture and DSAI related topics such as Māori data sovereignty, ownership, and management. Our DSAI/ECRG rōpū has over 50 researchers in Data Science, Artificial Intelligence and Evolutionary Computation, and received over $30 million of research grants including the MBIE SSIF Fund on Data Science for Aquaculture. Learning aboutMāori culture and building capability in Māori researchers is an important aspect of our research programme. We have been collaborating with multiple iwi groups across the country and establishing a series of internships and scholarships to support Māori students to learn and carry out research in artificial intelligence, computer science, data science and statistics at VUW. As a rōpū we look forward to more events like this visit to connect with tangata whenua.

This visit allowed me to share my culture with my colleagues and at the end of the day I left with my wairua full. I am proud to be Samoan and Māori, and proud to be a part of this rōpū.

Kirita-Rose Escott (Ngāti Hāmoa me Ngāti Kahungunu)

Kupu Whakamāmarama
Pipitea Marae an urban marae on Thorndon Quay, Wellington, that was opened in 1980
rōpū group, party of people, company, gang, association, entourage, committee, organisation, category
Aotearoa North Island - now used as the Māori name for New Zealand
kaikaranga caller - the woman (or women) who has the role of making the ceremonial call to visitors onto a marae, or equivalent venue, at the start of a pōwhiri
kaikōrero speaker, narrator
manuhiri visitor, guest
pōhiri to welcome, invite, beckon
wharenui meeting house – main building of a marae where guests are accommodated
poroporoaki to take leave of, farewell
whakapapa genealogy, lineage, descent
kōrero speech, narrative, story, news, account, discussion, conversation, discourse, statement, information
Te Reo Māori Māori language
paepae orators' bench
waiata song, chant, psalm
tangata tūārangi visitors from afar
rangi tune, air, melody, tenor, drift
koha gift, present, offering, donation, contribution
tangata whenua local people, hosts, indigenous people
kaumatua adult, elder, elderly man, elderly woman, old man - a person of status within the whānau
kuia elderly woman, grandmother, female elder
mātauranga knowledge, wisdom, understanding, skill
kaupapa Māori Māori approach, Māori topic, Māori customary practice, Māori institution, Māori agenda, Māori principles, Māori ideology
paramanawa refreshment, snack, nibbles, morning tea, smoko, afternoon tea
Rongo the wharenui is considered to be the domain of Rongo, the god of peace
Te Reo Hainamana Chinese language
whakaaro thought, opinion, plan, understanding, idea, intention, gift, conscience
manaaki to support, take care of, give hospitality to, protect, look out for - show respect, generosity and care for others
wairua spirit, soul
whakairo carving